Back to Pentatonix Posted February 27, 2015 - 8:30am

Pentatonix taking Cosmo stage


By Jason Bracelin
Call it the “Glee”-ification of the music business.

The swift rise of vocal quintet Pentatonix, who perform a cappella versions of pop hits of the present and past, seems at least partially rooted in the success of the TV show famous for its choral renditions of countless songs that the masses know by heart.

But, like any good cover of a well-known tune, Pentatonix takes this conceit and makes it their own.

In doing so, they’ve achieved a steadily growing success, selling nearly 2 million copies of their four EPs and three studio albums and quickly going from selling out clubs to large music halls.

What does Pentatonix’s rising profile tell us about the current state of the music industry?

Let us count a few of the ways:

Reality TV talent shows aren’t done creating stars just yet.

After goosing the fortunes of future stars such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Chris Daughtry early in its run, “American Idol” has lately churned out a slew of “winners” as forgettable as a whiskey-abetted one-night stand with a hirsute Barry Manilow devotee.

As for “The Voice,” well, it’s had all the impact on the record industry as a fart in a wind storm — to be fair to farts, most of them last longer than any name recognition for the contestants who appear on the show.

It’s tempting, then, to suggest that the power of reality TV talent competitions to launch successful careers in the music business is a thing of the past, like dinosaurs, the pet rock and people who listen to Bo Bice on purpose.

But then there’s Pentatonix.

The quintet appeared on season three of an a cappella group competition show “The Sing-Off,” eventually winning the thing, capping their victory with a rousing version of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

Their win earned them $200,000 and a record deal, setting the stage for a future as big as their voices.

But first, they’d have to fall off said stage — or be pushed, rather.

It’s possible to succeed outside the traditional bounds of the music business.

After their run on “The Sing-Off,” Pentatonix parted ways with their record label, who dropped them and the proverbial ball in one regrettable move.

Ultimately, this ended up being the best bad news this bunch could have ever gotten.

Without major label backing, Pentatonix turned to alternate means of getting their music to the public, namely via YouTube, where they launched their own channel to amazing success.

Pentatonix is fast approaching 800 million views of their various videos online and have more than 7 million subscribers to their channel, which ranks among the top 50 of all channels of any kind.

In building their fan base in this fashion, the group was able to do things their way free from any record company telling them what they can or can’t do while simultaneously taking a huge cut of any profits — though they did sign with indie label Madison Gate Records to serve as a distributor of their music.

During this time, they also became an increasingly successful touring act.

Eventually, Pentatonix would ink a deal with major label RCA Records, but as a priority signing with terms that were most assuredly more beneficial to them than when they were an unproven act.

By doing things outside the traditional music industry, then, Pentatonix was able to benefit when they chose to return.

The ubiquity of Auto-Tune has heightened the love of the pure human voice.

Auto-Tune, the music recording software that makes singers sound like robots gargling microchips, has become as commonplace in contemporary pop music as Chris Brown probation violations and references to Nicki Minaj’s backside as opposed to, you know, her actual songs.

Auto-Tune eliminates/obscures any flaws in one’s vocal delivery, synthesizing perfection, manufacturing tunefulness.

Thanks to Auto-Tune, the rutting of a tone deaf wildebeest or even Selena Gomez’s milquetoast mewling could be miraculously turned in a catchy melodic hook.

But it also has a homogenizing effect, stripping away the idiosyncrasies inherent in a singer’s voice and populating mainstream radio with the musical equivalent of an army of Stepford Wives.

The ubiquity of Auto-Tune, however, could be as catalyzing a heightened appreciation of something increasingly rare on the airwaves: the unprocessed human voice.

Humans, remember them?

They’re very different from pop stars, those Photoshopped gods and goddesses of product placement who neither write their songs, nor, as it turns out, truly sing them.

More than anything else, this is what Pentatonix has to offer, an alternative to all the prefab pop that they, in turn, transform from synthetic to organic, no computers necessary.

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